Remembering Missionary Griffith John Who Built First Church in Central China

Guests from Rev. Griffith John’s hometown visit Glory Church
Guests from Rev. Griffith John’s hometown visit Glory Church (photo: Glory Church)
By Gao Yage February 20th, 2020

The gospel ministry to China took root from a planted seed to sprouting, growing, and becoming sturdy... During that long period of time, the blood and tears of countless missionaries were shed on that gospel seed, and the prayers of countless people upheld the growth of the seed. Griffith John (1831-1912), also known as John Yang or Yang Duxin, was one of the famous missionaries of the London Missionary Society and the founder of the Christian ministry in central China.

In 1861, Griffith set off from Shanghai. On June 21, his arrival at Hankou made him the first Christian missionary to have entered central China, delivering sermons at the residence of the Jinting Shop of Shenjia Temple. Hankou remained as his working place until 1912 when he died. He founded schools, hospitals and training centers there.

In 1862, British Methodist missionary Josiah Cox arrived Hankou from Guangdong and Griffith offered him Jinting Gongdian property and Hanzheng Street area for the Methodist ministry. He headed to the downstream of Hualou Street to buy land for constructing the Hualou Church (later moved to the Mofan area and renamed as Griffith Church, which is today's Rongguang Church at the junction of Huangshi Road) and for the establishment of Renji Hospital (the predecessor of Hankou Union Hospital).

In 1863, Griffith built the first church in central China, Shouen Church in Jia Street, Hankou. In July 1864, he built the first church (Chongzhen Church, which was restored in 2000) in Wuchang Gejia Camp in the capital city of Hubei Province. At that time, Wuchang Gejia was not yet listed as a commercial port. Also, he built another Renji Hospital in nearby Shaohualin County. Soon, in Xiaogan, Tianmen, Zao City, as well as Huangxuan and Hanyang, he established churches. He and his colleagues, known as "street preachers", set up at least 100 missionary stations in Hubei Province.

What he did for the Chinese Church was not just preaching but also writing and translating books. Through his efforts, was able to skillfully use Chinese in speech and writing, making him popular among the locals and attracting a large number of people to listen to his sermons. In 1876, Griffith founded the Central China Christianity Publisher in Hankou, specializing in the preparation of sermons and pamphlets for missionary distribution when travelling to complement the inconvenience of foreign missionaries using Chinese (according to 1899 statistics, 80% of China's Christian text materials used for street sermons was printed by the Publisher). Not only did he serve for many years as the head of the Publisher, he was himself a prolific pamphlet writer, writing the countless and popular gospel pamphlets. He also worked on translation of the Bible, translating the New Testament and parts of the Old Testament into more than one Chinese dialect, and translating the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs into Mandarin Chinese (a semi-literary Chinese version was published in 1885). In 1899, he founded Griffith John College, the predecessor of Wuhan Fourth Middle School, in Houhualou Lane in the City of Hankou (today's Jiaotong Lane).

He was not related to us by blood, but what he did was beyond blood tie. Maybe we think we love Chinese souls, but are we not ashamed in comparison to Griffith? He was a "street preacher". Perhaps we can only preach God's Word in our own churches. A modern society is not only the streets, but also parks, buses, and mahjong houses ...When will our generation of Christians become "park preachers", "bus preachers", "mahjong house preachers" and "cyber preachers"? Now many preachers' and believers' beliefs have come to a "bottleneck", and some have even lost their mission. People who work for God do not work for the sake of work, and if we lose both "love" and "mission", then the missionary work we do also loses its true meaning. Hopefully, we will also find more past missionary footprints to help us regain strength during our periods of "bottleneck", thereby making sure that our faith remains "neither hot nor cold".

- Translated by Charlie Li

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